For an easier life Circulation: 135,120,765 Issue: 267 | 22nd day of Storing, Y8
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A Question of Worth: Part One


by extreme_fj0rd

--------

Christopher slammed the door open and stormed in. The blue Lupe glared around the entryway of his house, breathing shallow and fast. Anger tinted his vision red, and he snarled deep in his throat.

      Springing forward, he swiped a vase off its table and watched it smash on the floor. The resulting crash, and shards of pottery, were satisfactory, but not quite enough. Christopher's paws shot out, and he heaved the table up, pitching it over as well. One of the table legs cracked in half, with a noise like a Kyrii Cork Gun being fired.

      "Christopher!"

      The Lupe froze in place, then slumped, the anger draining out of him. He glanced up from the floor as his owner paused in the doorway, wiping her hands on a towel.

      "Oh, Christopher," she sighed. "What was it this time?"

      Christopher hunched his shoulders up protectively and muttered, "Alex can't come to Roo Island with us tomorrow."

      His owner looked sympathetic, but she didn't move toward him to comfort him. "Christopher..." she said. The Lupe looked up warily, hearing something off in her tone. She had always been nothing but sympathetic before, offering hugs, sweets, and condolences until he felt better.

      "Christopher," his owner started again, "I was thinking... I mean, you do this a lot." She gestured toward the broken vase and fallen table with the towel she still held. "Usually a few times a week," she added bleakly. "And, well... it's getting expensive. Replacing the vases, and the tables, and all that."

      Christopher stared at her. She had never mentioned this before.

      "So I signed you up for classes with the Techo Master," she continued, straightening up.

      Christopher perked up. "I'm gonna learn Neo-Fu?" he asked, excited.

      "Well. Sort of," his owner said. "It's an introductory class for a form of it. To help you learn control."

      The Lupe hardly heard her as she went on, "It'll be more in the way of meditation and calming exercises, the way I understand it." He was too excited. Learn Neo-Fu! Him! All of his friends would be envious next week when he went back to school and told them. Christopher grinned.

      "When's the first class?" he asked, interrupting his owner in the middle of another explanation and justification of signing him up.

      "What? Oh--it's tomorrow, tomorrow afternoon." She gave him a bright smile.

      Christopher nodded happily, and then paused. "What? But--we were going to go play Dice-a-Roo tomorrow!"

      His owner pressed her lips together. "I'm sorry, Christopher. You'll have to Neomail them and tell them you can't go."

      The Lupe sank down to the floor, staring at nothing. No Dice-a-Roo... this learning Neo-Fu idea was looking worse all the time.

      "Dinner's in an hour," his owner added, and disappeared back into the kitchen.

      Christopher nodded absently. His gaze turned to the broken vase and table, and he winced.

      As his owner started clattering pots and pans around in the kitchen, preparatory to cooking dinner, the Lupe picked up his backpack and slunk up the stairs, his shoulders low with shame.

     "Hey, Thomas," Christopher wrote later that evening, after dinner had been had and the dishes cleared away. "My owner signed me up for Neo-Fu, so I can't go play Dice-a-Roo tomorrow. Sorry. Maybe we can go on Sunday, or next weekend?"

      He glanced up at his owner, who was busy writing a letter of her own on the other side of the table, and then back at the paper.

      "I'll tell you all about Neo-Fu after my lesson tomorrow," he added, the pen scratching across the paper. "Maybe I'll even show you a move or two! Or I could always just practice on Brandon or someone, haha."

      Christopher paused, contemplating, and then signed his name underneath the message.

      "Okay," he said, folding the paper neatly. "It's ready." He placed it on top of a stack of three more letters. They all bore similar messages, to others of Christopher's friends.

      "Ready? Good!" his owner said cheerfully, looking up from her own letter. "Just a moment, and I can send them all off together."

      The Lupe nodded. "May I go up to my room?" he asked politely.

      His owner smiled, scribbling out another line. "Indeed you may," she said, with a grin up at him.

      Christopher smiled back and got up from the chair carefully. He padded through the kitchen and out into the hallway to the stairs, trying to not look at the ruins in the entryway. The table had been tipped upright, but it stood at a tilt now that the leg was broken, and while the shattered pieces of china had been swept into a pile, they still seemed to exude accusation.

      Christopher caught himself looking and glanced away guiltily. It wasn't his fault his owner kept buying those fragile vases, he told himself. But somehow, that didn't make him feel any better.

      He padded up the stairs slowly.

     Christopher wasn't really expecting any of his friends to send back Neomails when they heard the news, but the next morning there were two of them waiting for him. In between bites of toast and fried eggs, he ripped them open and read them, one after another. They were very similar, expressing regret and annoyance, but hoping they could reschedule.

      Another thing they had in common was the clear envy of Christopher--though that wasn't precisely in the text of the letters.

      "Well?" his owner asked, taking a careful bite of toast. "How'd they take it?"

      "Fine," Christopher said, shrugging. "When's my lesson start?"

      "Three o'clock," she said, wiping her hands on a napkin and picking up her fork to start on an egg. "So we'll have to take the two o'clock ferry out of the docks. Would you mind looking up fares?"

      Christopher glanced down at his empty plate, then at her half-full one, and nodded. He took his plate into the kitchen and put it in the sink to be washed, and then went back out into the living room.

      The red-bound Directory to Neopia's Ferries was sitting on top of the coffee table; the Lupe picked it up and flipped through to the page for the Neopia Central - Mystery Island ferry.

      "It's a thousand, seven hundred and... fifty," he called, scanning the rows of numbers. "For each of us."

      "Robbery," his owner sighed as Christopher came back into the dining room. "Ah well. It's not that much, really." She smiled. "And the class should be fun. Right, Christopher?"

      Christopher nodded obediently, even though his excitement at taking Neo-Fu was wearing off with all the waiting he was doing. He wondered idly if the others were going to play Dice-a-Roo without them or if they were waiting until Alex and Christopher could come, too. Whatever they were doing, the Lupe decided, it didn't concern him. Anyway, they'd be envious of him for taking Neo-Fu when he got back to school on Monday, and that was even cooler than a trip to play Dice-a-Roo.

     Once they were on the ferry to Mystery Island and the ocean spray was in their faces, Christopher found that he was starting to get excited about the class again. He looked from one side of the boat to the other, eyes bright with anticipation. All he saw were the waves, and occasionally a passing ship or boat. After ten minutes had passed with no event, the Lupe turned his gaze on the horizon, watching for the sandy shores of Mystery Island to appear on it.

      Halfway there, the other passengers on the ferry rushed for the sides. Christopher glanced back at them, puzzled, and then looked down, as they were doing. He gasped. The water was pure, clear aquamarine, and he could see all the way down to the bottom--where the buildings and constructions of Maraqua lay along the ocean floor. Hundreds and hundreds of seadwellers swam through the streets in layers: the top was the fastest, the bottom the slowest. Christopher caught a glimpse of an ancient-looking Maraquan Shoyru trundling along, his flippers flapping just above the sand.

      It was only another half-hour to Mystery Island after they left the piece of ocean that was Maraqua City. As soon as it was visible, Christopher tightened his grip on the rail and grinned until his face felt sore. Neo-Fu! At last!

      His owner came quietly up beside him and glanced over at his grin. "I'm glad that you're happy to be going," she said quietly, reaching over to pat his paw. "I was worrying you might not want to..."

      Christopher's happiness faltered a little, and he glanced over at her. "Why would I not want to?" he asked.

      She shrugged. "Oh, I don't know--I was just worrying a little, I suppose."

      The ferry slowed to come in to the dock, and bumped against it gently as lines were thrown and tied to keep it there. The captain emerged from the steering-house of the ship and stood by the edge of the ship, giving farewells and warnings to the ferry-goers exiting.

      Christopher shuffled his feet impatiently as they waited to get off the ship, but it was really only a minute or so until they were nodding goodbye to the captain, and then they stepped off the ship and onto the sea-soaked wood of the dock. Following the others, they made their way off the dock and onto the packed dirt of the largest Mystery Island thoroughfare. Christopher's owner pulled him aside once they were on the island itself and checked her watch.

      "So it's... oh! We only have ten minutes to get there!" she cried in surprise, and glanced around. "This way," she said, and started off quickly. Christopher followed her, glancing around excitedly when he wasn't looking out for tree roots or other obstacles on the path.

To be continued...

 
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